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La Calaca Festival more “alive” than ever

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

La Calaca (skeleton), one of the newest and most successful festivals in San Miguel de Allende, returns this year more “alive” than ever. The festival will explore art through exhibitions and murals related to the Day of the Dead and pay homage to Chavela Vargas, a Costa Rica-born Mexican singer especially known for her renditions of Mexican rancheras. The event will conclude with a party to die for.

In 2012, Klaudia Oliver, director of the festival, travelled around the world, and she realized that in all the countries she visited the calavera (skull) icon of the Day of the Dead was a symbol for Mexico, so she came up with the idea of celebrating Mexican culture and traditions through an event of participative art. The Calaca Festival gathers into one all the events that traditionally happen at this time in the city and offers new, innovative artistic expressions.

In 2012, this event included spectacles such as the Earth Harp, the biggest musical instrument in the world, the strings of which were tied to the Parroquia. In addition, photographer Spencer Tunick held a collective photo shoot called “Spirits.” The festival also included an outdoor exhibition of eight giant skulls decorated by different artists.

The Great Calaca

On October 31, at 8pm, the festival will be inaugurated at the Jardín Principal. The music by Gil Gutiérrez and Jimena Jimenez Cacho, as well as the opera singer Adriana Valdés, will pay homage to Chavela Vargas, who was appointed this year as La Gran Calaca. From this year on, the festival will pay homage to a nationally, locally or internationally known figure, now deceased, so she or he can come back to enjoy the earthly life once again and mingle with the festival-goers.

“Death is the most beautiful thing in the world, as a flamenco dancer, dark, with wild hair, and aggressive. I hung out with Death at the cantinas. When I used to drink, I would ask her, “Do you want to take me away or not, pelona?”

She is a good friend of mine. One day, she told me, ‘One night on the stage I am going to ask you for an autograph, and you will sign it with your life,’” says Chavela Vargas in a video on YouTube before singing “Cruz de Olvido.” Vargas was born in Costa Rica in 1919, and moved to Mexico when she was 17 years old. She became a naturalized Mexican citizen, and passed away in August last year. In Mexico she became popular because of her strong voice accompanied only by a guitar. She was well known for wearing a red poncho and also for her particular style of imitating a drunk man while singing. Some of her most popular songs are “Paloma Negra,” “El Último Trago,” and “Llorona,” which was part of the soundtrack of the movie Frida, starring Mexican actress Salma Hayek.

The same day at the Jardín Principal, a giant altar will be inaugurated, as well as small altars around the Jardín, dedicated to local, national, or international people who have passed away.

The one dedicated to Vargas will be set up at the offices of the Tourism Council.

Guadalupe art district

In 2012, Muros en Blanco (Blank Walls) participated with the decoration of a giant skull for La Calaca. Muros en Blanco is a nonprofit organization with the goal of promoting urban art in San Miguel. This year, the organization presented Distrito de Arte Guadalupe in Colonia Guadalupe, a space defined as the first gallery of contemporary muralists in the city. Currently the art district in Colonia Guadalupe has more than 15 murals done by several artists.

This year, Muros en Blanco is planning 10 more urban murals in Colonia Guadalupe; the themes will vary but will include the theme of death. The artists will start working on Thursday, October 31, during the morning or the afternoon.

On Saturday, November 2, at 3pm a procession will leave from Sollano 16 toward Colonia Guadalupe to inaugurate the works. The urban artists also will create some works in the historic center, on canvases set up for the event.

Frank “Nadie” Vega, director of the organization, said that they are very happy to participate in the festival because it is a way to get more spaces to express their ideas. The murals, depending on the quality of the wall and paint, can last at least two years.

Showy catrinas

In this country the huesuda (image of death) is respected and even gets dolled up in showy dresses and big hats adorned with colored feathers as La Catrina, the skeletal image of the society lady made immortal by the artist José Guadalupe Posada. A parade of this iconic character has been organized for 13 years by Rancho Los Labradores. The parade started with three catrinas and in 2012 it included more than 250 skeletons. Previously, Erick Cházaro from Los Labradores told Atención that they are becoming part of the La Calaca Festival with the hope that in the future every person in the city will dress as a catrina—and it seems like this is coming to pass, because every year more and more catrinas are part of different parades that leave from different spots in the city, heading toward the historic center.

The parade organized by Los Labradores will leave from Rosewood (where the catrinas will have some cocktails before and professional help dressing up) at 7:45pm on Friday, November 1, heading toward the Jardín. Although it is not organized by Los Labradores, there will be a catrinas contest at the Jardín in which everyone can participate. The catrinas of Los Labradores will hold a fashion show and have a dinner later at Rosewood. For more information call 415-101-0481.

Several artists directed by La Calaca have decorated 10 catrinas, 1.5 meters high, that will be exhibited in different public spaces of the city.

Support La Calaca

All the proposals for artistic projects for La Calaca are published on the web page of the festival and need funding. Oliver said that currently each artist is trying to raise money to present his or her project in the festival. One of the works that will be presented in the festival is the “Calavera Acuaponia,” designed by Griffin Klement. This sculpture explores the themes of death, rejuvenation, sustainability, and Aztec chinampas, through art and technology embodied in a massive 8-foot aquatic sculpture.

To finance a project go to www. The closing party of the festival is open to everyone and will be at the Casa de Europa on calle San Francisco in front of the church. There will be two dj’s in two patios playing different music. The donation of 200 pesos will go directly to pay expenses of the festival. Tickets are available online.

Check out the whole program of the Calaca Festival in Qué Pasa.

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